Heber Springs, Ark., is a town with a few more than 6,000 residents, about 65 miles north of Little Rock. Its main recreational activities are probably fishing along the shores of Greers Ferry Lake or the Little Red River, or hiking the nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain National Recreational Trail. And today, two residents of this town in north-central Arkansas are making United States Golf Association history.
Stanford Lee, 59, and his 55-year-old brother, Louis, are meeting in this morning’s quarterfinal round at the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur Championship. This marks the first time in the championship’s 57-year history that two brothers have played each other.
“That’s pretty dadgum incredible,” said Stanford of the feat he and his brother have accomplished here at Kinloch.
The two have paired up for team competitions in the past, and have even had chances to face off before. Until now, either Stanford or Louis had always lost before the opportunity came. So this is the first time one brother will have to beat the other.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” said Louis with a wry smile on his face.
Stanford agreed with the sentiment. “I do not want to play him,” he said, “but obviously we have to. I have tremendously mixed feelings.”
But this match wouldn’t even be happening if Stanford hadn’t strong-armed his little brother into getting back into competitive golf. This championship marks Louis’ return to competition after a 26-year absence.
“I had gone to work and I’ve got a career,” said Louis, who turned 55 in mid-July. “When I turned 55, Stan challenged me. He said, ‘You’re as good as anybody out there. You need to go out and try to qualify.’ So I did and here I am.”
“I had to make him go qualify for this,” said Stanford. “I kept telling him how good he was and how he deserved to be here and if I could win the thing, he could. So I got him at his computer and made him enter.
“If it hadn’t been for me, he wouldn’t be here, I guarantee you, because he wasn’t coming. I made him come! Regret it now, but anyway, here we are.”
Stanford and Louis both grew up playing golf, though their paths to Kinloch could not be more divergent. Stanford started playing at age 12 and quickly took to the game, leading his high-school golf team to three consecutive state titles and going on to win eight Arkansas State Amateur titles. His first USGA championship was the 1969 U.S. Junior Amateur at Spokane Country Club, when he lost in the first round of match play to 1988 Mid-Amateur champion and future professional David Eger.
After a college career at Louisiana State University where he twice earned All-American honors, Stanford took a try at professional golf, finishing second to Jim Simons at the 1977 First NBC New Orleans Open (now the Zurich Classic of New Orleans). After regaining his amateur status in 2005, Stanford soon made his mark on competitive senior golf when he became the youngest champion in Senior Amateur history in 2007. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the National Senior Amateur Hall of Fame, where he even won the weekend’s tournament.
Louis knows well his big brother’s accomplishments. “His record speaks for itself,” he said. “Past champion, All-American college player, (PGA) Tour player. He’s got all the credentials.”
As in many families, little brother followed in big brother’s footsteps. Louis took up the game at age 7, crediting his brother and their father, former pro baseball player Richie, for piquing his interest. Just like Stanford, Louis earned three straight high-school titles, attended LSU, claimed several Arkansas amateur titles and even took a brief try at professional golf. But he quickly decided that full-time golf wasn’t for him.
“I like competition and he doesn't,” Stanford said of his brother following his 2007 Senior Amateur victory. “You can't get him to play anything. He just will not do it. He doesn't want to have his name on a scoreboard and there might be a bad figure.”
After earning his amateur reinstatement in 1980, Louis abandoned competitive golf and went back home to Arkansas. He became a full-time businessman and opened up shop in Heber Springs as a State Farm insurance agent.
His business partner? Big brother Stanford.
“We have never had a spat,” said Stanford. “That’s a testimony to him, not me. I’m not always easy to get along with.”
During Tuesday’s third round, Louis claimed the first victory and waited anxiously for news of Stanford’s match. Stanford was equally anxious.
“When I heard he’d won, I wanted so bad to make it to him,” said Stanford.
Stanford had a 1-up lead over Tony Green at the 18th, but Green converted a miracle holeout for eagle to send the match to extras.
“I quit breathing about the middle of the fairway on 18 when he holed it,” said Stanford. Louis couldn’t watch.
With the quarterfinals on the line, Stanford hit his 8-iron approach on the 19th hole to 6 inches to clinch the meeting with his brother.
Louis waited by the scoreboard for Stanford’s victorious return. With tears in his eyes, Stanford came cruising around the corner of the putting green and made a beeline for Louis. Big brother grabbed little brother for an immense hug.
Saying that the brothers are close is an understatement, which makes today’s quarterfinal meeting quite a bittersweet moment.
“I’ll go out and I’ll try to win, and if I don’t, it’s OK,” said Louis, who admitted to being amazed by his success this week. “It is a win/win situation, and I am perfectly OK with whatever happens.”
Even though one Lee has to lose this morning, there will be two Lees on the course for the afternoon’s semifinals. Stanford and Louis agree – whoever loses will caddie for his brother.
And while Stanford also said that he’ll be fine with whatever happens, he did reveal a small amount of sibling rivalry.
“I want to make a good accounting of myself, and I want him to too,” said Stanford with a smile. “I hope one of us wins 1 up, I really do, because we’ve got to go back to Heber Springs and everybody’s going to say, ‘You got beat 7 and 6 by your little brother!’”
Christina Lance is a coordinator of championship communications for the USGA. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.